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The Board Gaming Renaissance

Sometimes, the low-tech gets a boost too

You'd think that board games are something that would've been perfected ages ago. For those who believe Chess and Go and other such titans of logical gaming to be the height of what the hobby has to offer, then I suppose, yes, board games have already been perfected. Games where one wit with fights with another and the better wit wins - what more do you need?

A lot more, actually.

I do not bemoan the existence of Go and Chess. The world is better for them; we need games where the better logic wins. But for the rest of us who enjoy games but don't like getting our asses beat by analytical machines that can see three dozen moves down the line, there are a plethora of other wonderful titles out there.

In the past decade, board gaming has reached something of a renaissance. No more must we slog through the drudgeries of yet another Monopoly or Risk night; hours upon hours lost to the same, predictable games.

The mechanics and themes in the games of the past decade contain a sort of creativity and willingness to experiment that other mediums (I'm looking at you, "next-gen" video games, and you, mainstream cinema) seem to be devoid of. I don't know if I would go so far as to call board games "art," but goddamn, a well crafted game can sure seem like a work of brilliant artifice (I mean, come on, how is the drafting mechanic in Seven Wonders not an example of the beauty of function? Even if you don't like the game, you have to admit that there's a certain beauty to it).

I'd say it was Settlers of Catan that really kicked this whole trend off - at least in America. Germany has had a proud history of board gaming for a long time and we here are finally being blessed with the German influence.

What do these newfangled games have that the old, tired ones don't? Simple.

Conversation. Also half decent mechanics, but that's not what I want to focus on.

What do I mean by conversation, you might ask? Certainly, I'll go on.

One thing that makes a lot of modern board games great is the heightened levels of interaction amongst the players in the game. Aside from brief bouts of trading and being screwed over by hotels, Monopoly is fairly solitary. Same with Risk, Clue, Sorry, Battleship - there's interaction, but it's limited.

Games like Settlers are all about the interaction. Trading is an integral part of the game, as is reading other players and keeping your opponents from getting what they want while not ruining your own plans in the process. Beyond that, every move you make has consequences for the other players; you're not all sitting around, tuning out when it's not your turn, you're actively engaged because something could happen that forces you to adapt your plans.

Board Games, in an age where it can feel like we are becoming more separated from each other, provide an important function - community and socialization. Obviously, they are not "the way" towards meaningful interaction with friends, but they certainly are a marvelous lubricant.

I've spent many a night around the table plotting and joking with my friends; we're playing a game, we're all absorbed in it, working out how to be the victor of the night, but most importantly - we're enjoying each other's company. 

Games work different social muscles; some your ability to bluff, others to calculate, others to obfuscate, to deflect, to bargain. When the nice, quiet one in your group of friends successfully manages to fool everyone at the table in a game of Resistance, you all learn about each other.

You have a blast. Winning matters, but what matters more is the stories you'll have.

Remember that game of Arabian Nights where you were possessed by a vengeful Efreet and got married to a gorilla?

Or that game of Cosmic Encounter when you pulled out the stealthy win with the Tick-Tock, sending the table into roars of gleeful outrage?

Maybe the game of Settlers where you whipped out three victory points in one turn out from under everyone's noses.

That Game of Thrones game where you executed a masterful betrayal - your shit-eating grin will be burned in my mind forever.

Perhaps that game of Pandemic where you agonized over how you were going to beat keep that disease at bay - and you made the wrong call.

There are a lot of great board games out there. They're complex and simple, serious and silly, glitzy and utilitarian.

You can find one that works for you and your friends. I guarantee it.

You may feel silly, being a grown-ass adult, playing a game about space battles until the wee hours of the night, but you will not regret it.

Not one bit.

Energy Siphoner

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